Baby Boomer Woman: Jean Peelen

by Anne Holmes on May 19, 2010

Meet NABBW Member Jean Peelen, a baby boomer champion of the diverse areas of civil rights, former actress and model, animal foster parent, and learn about the two books she’s co-authored giving boomers a clear road map to living our “after 50” lives to the fullest.

  • Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself? I am a 69-year old hellion. I’ve been a lawyer, a model/actress, and, in my latest incarnation, I’m a writer. I went to law school at age 35, then had 24 great years working in civil rights for the Federal government. I loved making policy on great educational issues like segregation, the rights of children with disabilities, equal athletic opportunity for girls, and sexual harassment in schools and colleges. I now live on a beautiful island off the west coast of Florida where I foster dogs, have a radio show on local community radio called “Gray Matters: Changing the Conversation About Aging” directed at folks over 50, which can be heard at And I’m starting a group called “Dining for Women” that raises money for girls and women around the world. Two friends and I have written two books: “Invisible No More: The Secret Lives of Women Over 50,” and “Saving the Best for Last: Creating Our Lives After 50.”
  • Tell us about your family; married, divorced, children, grands, boomerangs or parents living with you, etc. I was married for 12 years, and had two daughters who have now populated the world with seven, count ‘em seven, grandchildren! Who knew? I then lived with someone for another 12 years. I haven’t yet decided whether 13 is a lucky or unlucky number for me!
  • What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s? Oh my – I think it was the stupid crinolines we used to wear under our circle skirts. We competed to see who could wear the most crinolines. They were almost as hobbling as stays and corsets were in the 19th century. There was no way to make it through doorways, and three of us getting into a car were rather like a circus clown car in reverse.
  • What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women? We were the breakthrough generation I think. We bridged the conformist fifties and the hippy sixties. We had and have courage, humor, smarts, and persistence. Larger numbers of us than ever in history had visions for our lives, and the visions typically had to do with service to others. I think we created new definitions for every decade over fifty.
  • What inspires you? Nature inspires me, heroes inspire me, my foster doggies inspire me.
  • What brings you the most pleasure in midlife? The freedom of living exactly the way I want to live. Becoming “invisible” to much of society, grants me incredible freedom to do, be, and say exactly what I choose.
  • Do you have any interesting hobbies? The radio show “Gray Matters” really is my hobby. I don’t get paid; it’s a labor of love. Through it, I had to learn an amazing amount of new technologies. My hobby for most of my life has been getting to know people, so interviewing writers, and healers, and environmentalists for the show has been great. (See
  • Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite. My “favorite” book keeps shifting as new books come out. Jane Austen has my heart and I re-read her often. My current reading favorites in fiction are the Alexander McCall novels. Both authors write with a great deal of charm. My non-fiction recent favorites are “Three Cups of Tea,” which is non-stop inspiration, and “The Spirit Catches You Then You Fall Down,” which had me swimming in a culture that is 180 degrees different than mine.
  • Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go? For a while, I was doing some consulting work that took me regularly to Prague. How’s that for dying and going to heaven?! I traveled also to a number of European countries. The last few years I’ve mostly been cruising with my sister and her husband. While I’m not a cruise fanatic, it’s fun to be with them and to totally relax.
  • Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate.  Well what a timely question! After about 1 ½ years of seemingly constant infections, MRSA, C-Diff, Urinary tract, and kidney, and thus almost constant anti-biotics, I recently decided that it was up to me to get my body back into balance. I’m thinking that for the most part, it was the medical profession that got me into this unbalanced state, so I’m taking over and becoming responsible for myself. I’m doing the Andrew Weil, “8 Weeks to Optimum Health” plan which has diet, exercise, spiritual, and supplements components.
  • What do you stress about? I stress about almost nothing. The closest to stress comes I think when something is going on with my daughters or granddaughters.  I begin worrying about them. When that happens, I call on tools at my disposal like meditation, what I call “nighttime intentions” and also, being in nature.
  • Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go? Hell yes it’s important to me. More than I like to admit. I have had my eyes done (30 years ago) and a lower facelift (about 15 years ago). Yes, I know it is just vanity, but so be it.
  • Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how? Hah. Note that my email address (for the last 30 years) is Beginning in my mid-30s, I have reinvented myself about every 15 years: from minister’s wife and mother to law student and lawyer, to manager of an international broadcasting agency, to model and commercial actress (I still demonstrate skin creams on The Home Shopping Network), to writer, to radio show host. Life is all about reinvention I think.
  • Do you plan to retire? Been there, done that; boring.
  • Are you doing anything to GO Green? I have to say I’ve not been an environmental activist. But, as we here on the Gulf Coast face imminent disaster from oil and our dependence on it, I am finally becoming radicalized.
  • Do you engage in any faith based practices? Nope. Spiritual based practices for sure, but not faith based.
  • Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife? A realization that came after I retired that I didn’t really need as much money as I thought I did. I downsized from a four bedroom suburban house to a 535-foot log cabin in VA. I gave things away, I did with less. Created freedom because I then didn’t have to work.
  • Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them? Yes, I want to run for office on my little island. Being part of the government of a community has always been a dream. I also want to re-create this whole island as a retreat community. This is a very healing environment, and I can so see all sorts of different groups retreating here. Of course, I also see me as leading some of those retreats.  I’d also like to go live in a monastery, preferably on a Greek hilltop, for about a month.
  • How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world? I don’t know if I have that claim to fame. I support a bunch of non-profits, I was a consultant to The Sister Study (studying breast cancer), and I love KIVA through which I’ve supported about fifty female entrepreneurs around the world.
  • Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why? When Martin Luther King was assassinated, his wife’s uncle, Mr. Alfred Scott, was the custodian of my husband’s church. His link to Dr. King was unknown until he asked for time off to go to the funeral. The church immediately wanted to fire this 40-year employee for his radical connections. The contrast of the fear and mean-spiritedness of the congregation with the courage of Mr. Scott moved me and changed my life. Because of his example of being willing to give up what was dear to him for what was more important, I went to law school and became a civil rights lawyer.
  • If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose. Live large, live free; live joyfully. Always see others with love and compassion. Know that the hard times are the most valuable times. I am 69-years old. It is my mission to model what living full out at 69 looks like.
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